Daily Briefing: Erdogan and Trump Claim Victory in Northeast Syria (October 24,2019)

President Trump and President Erdoğan give a joint statement in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Tuesday, May 16, 2017, in Washington, D.C (Source: Wikipedia)

Table Of Contents:

Turkey’s Offensive in Northeastern Syria: The Expected, the Surprising, and the Still Unknown Gallia Lindenstrauss and Eldad Shavit, INSS Insight No. 1217, Oct. 23, 2019

The Turk and the President:  Editorial board, WSJ, Oct. 11, 2019

Turkey’s Pyrrhic Victory in Syria:  Burak Bekdil, BESA, Oct. 22, 2019

______________________________________________________Turkey’s Offensive in Northeastern Syria: The Expected, the Surprising, and the Still Unknown
Gallia Lindenstrauss and Eldad Shavit
INSS Insight No. 1217, Oct. 23, 2019

Operation Peace Spring, the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria that began on October 9, 2019, is the third offensive carried out by Turkey in northern Syria and its most ambitious action in Syria to date, as well as the one that has elicited the most international censure. The developments that led to this offensive and its outcomes have regional and international significance that go well beyond the specific campaign.

The Turkish decision to enter northeastern Syria was expected, given the frequent threats from Ankara to do so, which peaked with the speech by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the UN General Assembly in September. In his speech, Erdogan presented a map that included the delineation of what Turkey calls the “safe zone” it seeks to establish in northeastern Syria. Since the territorial defeat of the Islamic State, the Trump administration – which already in late 2018 declared its intent to withdraw US forces from the region – found it hard to justify its continued support for the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, which is aligned with the PKK, the Kurdish underground active in Turkey. The military wing of the PYD was the ally of the United States in fighting the Islamic State, and responsible for defeating the Islamist forces in ground combat. In discussions between the United States and Turkey in a bid to reach agreement on the “safe zone” issue, there was a significant gap in the determination evinced by the two sides, as well as the importance each attributed to the subject. Though the Trump administration had tried to ensure that minimum harm would befall US allies, the President, once again surprising even his closest supporters, ordered the withdrawal of forces after a phone call with Erdogan, thus preparing the ground for the start of the Turkish operation.

For Turkey, this is a cardinal matter, significant in terms of both national security and domestic interests. Regarding national security, Turkey saw a threat in the emergence of autonomous Kurdish cantons in northeastern Syria, and took action to prevent their territorial contiguity. With the current operation, Turkey aims to turn back the clock on the autonomous Kurdish control over these areas. In addition, there is noticeable mounting domestic indignation at the presence of some 3.6 million refugees from Syria in Turkey. To address the problem, Ankara plans to send refugees to territory within Syria that it will control in the future. According to Turkish officials – albeit citing numbers that are questionable – some 350,000 refugees have already returned “voluntarily” to areas Turkey conquered in previous operations – within Syrian territory.

Another development that might have been anticipated was the PYD opting to forge a deal with the Bashar al-Assad regime once the Turkish threats were realized. Indeed, in the 1990s there was close cooperation between the PKK and the previous regime, that of Hafez al-Assad, and this cooperation even brought Turkey and Syria to the brink of war – until the Syrian side yielded to Turkish pressure. Given the current instability in northeastern Syria, doubts persist as to the ability of the sides to maintain this deal over time. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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The Turk and the President
Editorial board
WSJ, Oct. 11, 2019

President Trump prides himself on one-on-one diplomacy, but too often it results in rash and damaging decisions like his abrupt order Sunday for U.S. troops to retreat from northern Syria. Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now dictating terms to the American President, and the consequences are likely to be felt far beyond Syria and Turkey.

Mr. Trump made his decision after a phone call with Mr. Erdogan in which we now know the Turk said he wanted to follow through on his threat to invade. U.S. officials had been negotiating for months with Turkey to establish a safe zone in the region that would protect Kurdish and Turkish interests while maintaining the gains against Islamic State.

Jennifer Griffin of Fox News reports that Mr. Trump was supposed to tell Mr. Erdogan to stay north of the border. When the Turkish bully made his threats, Mr. Trump could have said that the U.S. military controls the air above the region and would respond to protect the Kurds and U.S. soldiers. Ms. Griffin reports that Mr. Trump instead “went off script” during the call and agreed to stay out of Turkey’s way.

Turkey’s invasion has now begun, and State Department officials are left to plead on background that it is a “very big mistake.” Mr. Erdogan can be forgiven if he pays more attention to Mr. Trump’s comments this week that he acceded to Turkey’s invasion because he wants to end America’s “endless wars.” The Turk called the President’s bluff.

How this will play out isn’t clear, but the early signs are troubling. Mr. Trump claimed Mr. Erdogan would take control of the more than 10,000 Islamic State prisoners under Kurdish control, but a senior adviser to Mr. Erdogan told CNN this week that Turkey “never said” it would “shoulder the burden” of holding the prisoners.

Watch out if the Kurds stop holding the prisoners as they flee the invading Turks. The ISIS fighters could break free to rejoin the estimated 15,000 jihadists who haven’t been killed or captured. They could hoist their flag again over territory in Syria or Iraq.

Kurds and Syrians took nearly all of the ground casualties in the previous fight against the caliphate. Why would they do so again after Mr. Trump abandoned them against the Turks? And especially after Mr. Trump said this week that the Kurds might have helped against ISIS but they were well paid and hadn’t helped us at “Normandy”—as in D-Day.

Mr. Trump’s retreat is also a thumb in the eye to our friends in Europe. The State Department spent months seeking Europe’s help to share the burden of maintaining a safe zone in northern Syria, and with some success. Mr. Trump’s decision undercuts that effort, and now Mr. Erdogan is threatening Europe with a new refugee wave if its leaders criticize his invasion. “We will open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way,” he said this week. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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Trump’s Letter to Turkey’s Erdogan Shows the U.S. Is Struggling to Keep Up with Ankara
Soner Cagaptay
NBC News, Oct. 16, 2019

President Donald Trump’s letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging him not to go after an enemy Kurdish military group in neighboring Syria as U.S. troops depart the war-torn country, indicates that the U.S. president wants to corner his Turkish counterpart. But Erdogan, who has run Turkey for nearly two decades, may well be smarter than to let himself be trapped.

So far, the Turkish president shows no sign of stopping his relentless advance despite the threat of American sanctions Trump delivered in his missive, made public Wednesday but penned last week. Erdogan has calculated that even if the sanctions come, they won’t be sufficient to disrupt the Turkish military strategy; he figures that what Trump wants most is to bring U.S. troops home, and he won’t do much more to prevent the offensive against the Kurds.

Erdogan wants to see Ankara rising as a great power with influence over Muslims across Turkey’s former Ottoman Empire possessions.

Erdogan is without doubt the most consequential Turkish leader in nearly a century. The move is just the latest example of Erdogan’s ability to play off major world powers to get what he wants — though at the cost of his international relationships.

In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established modern Turkey in his image as a secular state oriented toward Europe and the West. Styling himself as the new Ataturk since becoming prime minister in 2003, Erdogan has revolutionized Turkish politics, striving to recast the country from the top down in his own image: profoundly Islamic and socially conservative.
 
Moreover, Erdogan’s “new Turkey” is primarily oriented not toward the West but the Middle East. Erdogan wants to see Ankara rising as a great power with influence over Muslims across Turkey’s former Ottoman Empire possessions.

Erdogan’s quest for greatness for Turkey is not unusual. It is, in many ways, a continuation of the policies of the Ottoman sultans as well as Ataturk, all of whom sought great power.

However, Erdogan’s path to the same end is different. While his predecessors folded Turkey into the West to exert global influence, Erdogan’s goal is to make Turkey a stand-alone power: first in the Middle East, then globally.

Accordingly, Erdogan has sought to influence the affairs of Turkey’s Muslim-majority neighbors. One of his most dramatic moves on this score has been to intervene in neighboring Syria’s civil war by supporting and arming rebels trying to oust the regime of Bashar al-Assad — hoping to replace him with leadership in Damascus friendly to Ankara. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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Turkey’s Pyrrhic Victory in Syria
Burak Bekdil
BESA, Oct. 22, 2019

Turkey’s military incursion into northeastern Syria had an ostensibly happy ending on its seventh day, with all state and non-state actors in the Syrian theater appearing to be winners of some sort: US president Donald Trump claimed the ceasefire he brokered between Turkey and Syria’s Kurds would save millions of lives; Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed the incursion cleared a vast zone of Kurdish terrorists; Russia won control over a region evacuated by US forces; the Syrian regime advanced into areas it left to the Kurds in 2012; and the Kurds found new allies in Moscow and Damascus. None of that will bring sustainable peace to a geography perpetually in turmoil.

Turkey’s most recent war on the Kurdish insurgency, which has lasted 35 years so far, has caused over 40,000 casualties by the most optimistic estimate. This period of violence began in 1984 when the PKK – the main Kurdish insurgency group, listed by Turkey, the US, and the EU as a terrorist organization – killed 33 unarmed Turkish soldiers in Eruh, in southeast Turkey. The PKK has killed thousands more Turkish troops since then, as well as government workers, Kurds who refuse to cooperate, and civilians. In response, the Turkish military resorted to brutal methods of suppression, particularly in the 1990s. Those methods included the torture and killing of civilian activists. By any reasonable criteria, this has been an ugly war.

Ankara has claimed countless times that it is finishing off PKK terror once and for all, but it has never succeeded in doing so. President Trump likens the long-simmering conflict to a schoolyard fight – one that American prowess has temporarily halted. “Sometimes you have to let them fight. It’s like two kids in a lot, you got to let them fight and then you pull them apart.” These kids are not kidding: they will lunge at each other’s throats whenever they can.

Turkey wants to create a “safe zone” of 440 by 32 km in northern Syria by pushing the Kurds southward. As of October 20, its military claimed to be in control of a 120 by 30 km area covering the center of the target zone. The operation is unlikely to move further east toward Damascus, where the regime is based together with Russian forces, the Kurds’ new patrons.
Erdoğan claims the operation has already yielded the desired (military) results. Maybe. But he is wrong if he thinks a cross-border operation will fully solve an ethnic conflict that dates back to the early 19th century. Recent history and demographics tell us why.

The safe zone intended by Turkey means no more shelling from Kurdish outposts bordering Turkey. Those Kurdish strikes have killed civilians, including children (Kurdish attacks killed dozens during Operation Peace Spring, including a nine-month-old baby). But this does not change the fact that Turkey and its military border an overwhelmingly Kurdish zone. The operation seems to have pushed the 120 km border south by 30 km, which amounts to little more than a redrawing of the Turkish-Kurdish border. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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For Further Reference:

Exclusive: Inside the State Department’s Meltdown with the Kurds:  Matthew Petti, The National Interest, Oct. 22, 2019 – A State Department official broke a pencil and screamed at the Syrian Kurdish delegation during a dramatic breakdown of relations between the United States and the Syrian Kurds.

Pentagon Chief Says American Troops Leaving Syria Will Conduct Anti-ISIS Operations from Iraq:  Lolita C. Baldor, Military Times, Oct. 20, 2019 — While President Donald Trump insists he’s bringing home Americans from “endless wars” in the Mideast, his Pentagon chief says all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the American military will continue operations against the Islamic State group.

Trump Lifts Sanctions on Turkey, Announces Permanent Syria Ceasefire:  Aamer Madhani, Realclearpolitics, Oct. 23, 2019 — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he will lift sanctions on Turkey after the NATO ally agreed to permanently stop fighting Kurdish forces in Syria and he defended his decision to withdraw American troops.

Pompeo to ‘Post’: Israel Has Right to Act In Syria, U.S. will Stop Iran:  Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 20, 2019 –Despite the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, Israel retains operational freedom to defend itself, and America remains committed to closely watching the Iraqi-Syrian border to help prevent the transfer of Iranian arms into the country, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told The Jerusalem Post on Friday in an exclusive interview.

Turkey May Go the Way of Venezuela Daniel Pipes, WSJ, Oct. 23, 2019 — Turkish citizens are wildly optimistic about the invasion of Syria that began Oct. 9. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision finds broad support within Turkey, including from all the major opposition parties except the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party.